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From the Real Housewives franchise to institutions like Big Brother
Sometimes you just want to watch something stupid. We understand. The best genre to do this with is reality TV. The best trashy — and we don't mean that word as an insult, honestly — reality shows give you a fascinating look at darker parts of the human condition without asking too much of you as a viewer. They're easy to watch, even if the emotions are abject and painful. They're little slices of life packaged for snackable consumption, where the real people talk in catchphrases, the drama is semi-scripted, and the worst thing you can be is fake (or at least exposed as a fake).
This list gathers the best trashy reality shows to watch on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Paramount+. We define "trashy reality shows" loosely, and the list includes lifestyle shows like the Real Housewives and Love & Hip Hop franchises as well as competition shows like America's Next Top Model and Big Brother. It doesn't have documentary-style reality shows or competition shows that are primarily about the competition itself and not the interpersonal conflict between the participants. It also doesn't include reality dating shows, which are a genre unto themselves and have their own list. The simplest way to define what makes the trashy reality show is this: If it's a show where you expect to see someone get a drink thrown in their face, it belongs on the list.
Looking for more recommendations of what to watch next? We have a ton of them! We also have hand-picked selections based on shows you already love, as well as recommendations for Netflix (movies/shows), Amazon Prime Video (movies/shows), Hulu (movies/shows), Disney+ (movies/shows), HBO Max (movies/shows), Apple TV+, and Peacock.
This reality series follows a group of rich, young TikTok stars as they talk business and live their lives in a giant house, and man, is it depressing! It's not quite the party show Netflix marketed it as, mostly because not one of these people seems like they actually enjoy the direction their lives are going in. If you like to gawk at the messy lives of people with no self-awareness, Hype House will deliver a big dose of schadenfreude. -Allison Picurro [Trailer]
Social media is a cesspool of lies and insecurities, and this Netflix Original pounces on that idea and takes it to the next level. Contestants all live in a single apartment complex but never come face-to-face with each other, communicating only through a proprietary social media platform that connects them all. As they build their profiles and chat with each other they must decide how they want to be portrayed in order to avoid getting voted out, Big Brother-style. But that means some go all out with catfishing and pretend to be people they aren't, while others feel authenticity is the best. It turns out that no one can ever really be sure that the person they're getting friendly with is who they say they are. -Tim Surette [Trailer]
Be warned: Real Housewives is the type of reality show franchise that can easily consume your life. With 10 American series alone, plus multiple international editions, there are enough installments of this Bravo staple to last you a lifetime. (And that's not to mention all the time spent keeping up with the women's real-life drama playing out in the tabloids and on social media, which is a whole job of its own.) While we recommend every reality TV fan give Real Housewives a go, not every city is created equal. That's why we recommend newbies start with either Real Housewives of New York or Atlanta, two of the franchise's longest running and most consistently entertaining series. We should probably also mention that Housewives tends to get very dark. So if you're looking for purely a lighthearted escape, this world isn't for you. But if you want to have a nice balance of silly shenanigans, Shakespearean feuds, and some truly chilling looks into the human condition, there's nothing better on TV and we doubt there ever will be. -Sadie Gennis [Trailer]
With Vanderpump Rules, it feels like the producers truly captured something rare: a group of young people with low morals, a high alcohol tolerance, and a storied history before the cameras ever started rolling. Following the waitstaff at Lisa Vanderpump's restaurants in LA, this Real Housewives of Beverly Hills spin-off chronicles the hookups, breakups, and truly shocking betrayals of a group of people that are practically mascots for the phrase, "with friends like these, who needs enemies?" And while the show begins to meander as the cast grows up and grows out of their worst habits, the first five seasons deliver some of the best drama the genre has to offer. -Sadie Gennis [Trailer]
Even if you watched America's Next Top Model when it was on, that doesn't mean it's not worth revisiting. One of the best parts of this series is its rewatchability, which is why we used to lose our weekends to TV marathons of this reality show staple. And if you never dipped a toe into Tyra Banks' competition series -- which becomes slowly more outrageous as the seasons go on -- trust us when we say this is the perfect thing to just have on for 12 hours a day as you vacillate between mindlessly scrolling through your phone and passionately judging the absurd photo shoots and taking sides in fights between contestants (and sometimes even the judges). This is definitely a series that you could happily start from the very beginning, but if you wanna test out the goods first, you gotta start with Season 3, which features future Real Housewife Eva Marcille and future Chicago Med star Yaya Dacosta. -Sadie Gennis [Trailer]
Yes, there was a time when assuming someone's identity and pretending to be them on the internet for nefarious purposes didn't have a catchy name. But then, in 2010, came a surprisingly dark documentary in which the filmmaker fell in love with a young woman online only to discover -- after a cross-country drive to meet her -- that's a she's a much older married woman with several kids. The filmmaker, Nev Schulman, then partnered with MTV to take a surreal early social media phenomenon and turn it into one of the most batsh-- and comical reality shows of our time. Catfish helps people who fall in love on the internet but can't seem to transition their relationships into real life find the mystery person they've been talking to. And the reveals are always astounding. Catfishes range from strangers to exes to family members taking revenge on national television ("You shoulda never called me fat ass Kelly Price!") and have pretended to be everyone from Lil Bow Wow to Katy Perry. Part Maury drama, part true-crime mystery, Catfish is an addictive binge that's anchored by the borderline romantic chemistry of its hosts Nev and Max Joseph. And every once in a while Catfish will surprise you with a happy ending; after all, finding love online isn't so far-fetched anymore. -Krutika Mallikarjuna [Trailer]
Usually, we turn on Keeping Up with the Kardashians after enduring a particularly soul-scarring episode of Dateline, but these days, two minutes of news is enough to make us crave some Kompanionship. There's something oddly calming about watching a group of Kardashian-Jenner siblings gathered around a kitchen island, eating salads and talking in curiously monotone affects about the latest person in their circle to betray them. While the famous family has enough real-life scandal and drama to make for a gripping show, their tendency to air everything out on social media months before it's captured by E!'s cameras curtails any tension, so the episodes end up unfolding like a comforting bedtime story: you already know how it ends. Keeping Up with the Kardashians ended in 2021, but a new show, The Kardashians, is coming in April. It will be pretty much the same show, just on Hulu instead of E! -Lauren Zupkus [Klip]
Even people who knew and loved Jersey Shore during its original run will find it fascinating to revisit Jersey Shore in its early seasons, before the cast or crew had any idea how big of a cultural phenomenon it would become. It's also nuts to see how MTV adapts to milk the newfound cash cow on their hands, choosing to ship the cast to Miami for Season 2 so they don't have to wait for summertime to return to Seaside Heights. I'm sure we'd all like to think we're more stable than people who refer to themselves as "JWoww" and "The Situation," but being stuck with the same group of people for more time than you originally bargained for with nothing but an abundance of cameras and alcohol is enough to make anyone go a little crazy. And it makes for great TV! -Lauren Zupkus [Trailer]
Fans of ratchet hip hop and reality shows have long found near nirvana in the Love & Hip Hop New Yorkand Love & Hip Hop Atlanta spectacles, airing for 10 and nine seasons respectively. Executive producer Mona Scott-Young has made a mint off the franchise by assembling some of the most dramatic, over-the-top, and messy music makers in the business, under the guise of watching them navigate relationships. Mostly though, we're just here for the cussin' and fightin'. In the New York installment, a who's who of respected rappers, rappers' chicks, and one-hit wonders -- Joe Budden, Juelz Santana, Lil Mo, and on and on -- found new life and love in the series, including Remy Ma and Papoose, whose relationship is, crazy as it sounds, the only sure thing in this effed-up world. New York is also notable for turning a scrappy exotic dancer from the Bronx named Cardi B into an A-lister. But if New York is messy, then Atlanta is like a piece of postmodern performance art. Down in the A, icons-in-their-mind like Joseline Hernandez, K. Michelle, Yung Joc, and Lil Scrappy wear the guise of middle-class civility for as long as they can -- until somebody throws a drink or insults somebody's baby momma and the rumbles begin. -Malcolm Venable [Trailer]
The concept of RuPaul's Drag Race is pretty simple: RuPaul puts a cast of drag queens through various challenges like sewing, acting, and dancing in an effort to see which of them is fit to become "America's next drag superstar." The show has become known for its lip syncs and looks, but the best moments rarely come from the competition itself. Drag Race is at its most addictive when the queens, who spend most of their time letting arguments fester while stuck together in the "Werk Room," inevitably clash, their spats leading to some of the show's funniest soundbites. It's a world of high drama, where telling someone they belong in a Party City can lead to a season-long blood war, and it's impossible to look away from. -Allison Picurro [Trailer]
Australia came out of nowhere to become a goldmine for reality television, and this is the king of them all. What should be an HGTV-friendly show about short-term rentals becomes an endless stream of condescension and cattiness as contestants spend time in each other's vacation properties and absolutely tear each other down, with the winner getting to stay at Leonardo DiCaprio's Australian getaway. The best part of the series comes as the most stuck-up characters finally have a chance to show off their houses, and they're absolute mind-melting interior designer nightmares. Whoever cast this show deserves a promotion. -Tim Surette [Trailer]
This slightly more mature spin-off of Laguna Beach follows Lauren "L.C." Conrad as she moves to Los Angeles to pursue college and a career in fashion. Lauren was always the relatable voice of reason on Laguna, and that continues in The Hills even as she finds herself in more and more dramatic situations, further fueled by her growing fame and expanding social circle. But as titillating as it is to watch Lauren choose reuniting with her ex instead of taking an internship in Paris in the first season, it's in Season 2 -- when Lauren's roommate Heidi Montag begins dating the now iconic reality TV villain Spencer Pratt -- that The Hills graduates to must-see. The series loses steam in the fifth season as the storylines become less chaotic (and believable), but don't let that put you off this MTV jewel, which proves just how little it matters whether a reality show is or isn't scripted as long as it's this good. -Sadie Gennis [Trailer]
If you haven't watched Big Brother before, you probably think it's just a boring reality competition where people stuck in a house turn against each other in order to win the grand prize. And while that is partially correct, what this ignores is just how goofy Big Brother actually is. Each week, the house guests participate in two challenges, but these aren't your run-of-the-mill competitions; there's always a theme, it's usually weird as hell, and there are very often silly costumes that go along with it. So while you get all the thrills of watching the interpersonal drama and game strategies play out, you also get the pure joys of people doing very silly things with dead seriousness. This show even has a robot that comes in once a season to ruthlessly roast the contestants! How do you not want to see that? There over 20 seasons of Big Brother in the can, but you can either skip Season 1 entirely and jump in with Season 2 or even skip ahead to some of the best-ever installments, such as Seasons 6, 7, and 17. -Sadie Gennis [Trailer]